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Voters face tax questions

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / November 2, 2008
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The economic climate could not be less conducive to a call for increased taxes, but four communities south of Boston will be doing just that on Tuesday.

The four will be voting on overrides to Proposition 2 1/2, the state law that limits the increase in a community's tax revenue to 2 1/2 percent a year, plus revenue from new growth.

The antitax sentiment may be strongest in Brockton, where Mayor James Harrington has proposed three overrides totaling $3.59 million. City Council members agreed to put the questions on the ballot, but do not believe they will enjoy much success.

Like Brockton, East Bridgewater will vote on a general override, which would raise property taxes permanently. Mattapoisett and Walpole will vote on debt-exclusion overrides, which would raise taxes for 20 years to repay borrowing.

Voting in most communities is expected to be heavy due to interest in the presidential race, with as many as 90 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

"I think this is going to be a historic vote," Town Clerk Ron Fucile said of the expected turnout in Walpole, which has 14,000 registered voters. "We've got over 1,000 absentee ballots already."

Fucile said the library trustees considered the turnout when deciding whether to place the library question on the Nov. 4 ballot.

"They decided they would rather have it on that ballot when more people would vote," Fucile said.

In East Bridgewater, Town Clerk Marcia Weidenfeller predicted voter turnout of about 85 percent, which she attributed to interest in the race for president. When the same override question was defeated in the spring of 2007, turnout was 26 percent.

Brockton

$3,590,000
PURPOSE: Three questions; $1.13 million to restore 10 police officer and six firefighter positions; $210,000 to restore library positions and hours; $2.25 million for education programs.

PROPERTY TAX INCREASE: For median-priced home assessed at $264,000, annual increase of $30.99 for the public-safety question, $5.81 for libraries, $61.30 for schools. They total $98.10.

HISTORY: Brockton's last override attempt was in 1991, when three overrides - for police, fire, and schools - all failed. City voters haven't approved a tax increase for operational budgets since Proposition 2 1/2 went into effect in 1983.

PRO: "As a taxpayer in the city myself, I see it as a no-brainer," said Police Chief William Conlon. "You just have to look at what we're gaining for that $100 per household. And you have to think about what we're now losing without it. "

CON: "I think right now everybody is frozen because everyone is so fearful of what's going to happen" economially, said Councilor Linda Balzotti. While sympathetic to departments' needs, Balzotti said a tax increase is not a realistic request. "It's just that the people don't have the money."

East Bridgewater

$1,250,000
PURPOSE: Money to be put into a Capital Projects Stabilization Fund and used to cover loan payments on large projects.

PROPERTY TAX INCREASE: $221 a year on a median-priced home assessed at $341,000.

HISTORY: The town's budget was bolstered for several years by fees from the Browning-Ferris Industries landfill on Thatcher Street. Once that revenue dried up, budgets had to run leaner. Voters in 2007 rejected a $1.25 million tax increase, but the town moved ahead with a water system improvement project that increased the average water bill by $276.

PRO: "We need a stable funding source for capital projects, and this would give us one,"' said Selectman David Walsh, who said the town also needs a $5 million septic system for the high school, Town Hall, and Central School. Walsh said the average water bill would drop by $166 if the override passes.

CON: "I feel it's about timing, and right now the timing isn't right," said Selectwoman Theresa McNulty. "There are people who can barely pay their mortgages, never mind additional taxes. What I'm hearing from my constituents is, 'I can't be taxed any more.' "

Mattapoisett

$4,580,000
PURPOSE: A new fire station.

PROPERTY TAX INCREASE: $84 per year for 20 years on a median-priced home assessed at $407,000.

HISTORY: The current, 3,000-square-foot station, built in 1952, falls far short of today's building and safety standards and is much too small, officials say. Those factors did not persuade voters to approve a similar tax hike in 2007. Selectmen and Capital Planning Committee members continue to count a new fire station as the town's top building priority, said Town Administrator Michael Botelho.

PRO: "We desperately need this for the safety of the firemen," said Janet Scott, Fire Chief Ronald Scott's wife and the president of the Mattapoisett Firefighters Auxiliary. "This station is overcrowded, and it's not handicapped-accessible. There is not enough room for the firefighters to change into their gear, and there is nowhere to wash their gear after an incident."

CON: "I'm in support of a fire station, but I'm not in support of the way they are going about it," said resident Daniel Goodman. "This project is about $1 million too much, because they are hell bent on building the Taj Mahal, appearance-wise. If the Board of Selectmen and the fire chief had been more conservative, they could be moving into a new fire station as we speak."

Walpole

$7,000,000
PURPOSE: A $12 million library.

PROPERTY TAX INCREASE: $79 on a median-priced home assessed at $456,000 in the first year of the loan. The amount would decrease about $2 each year over 20 years.

HISTORY: Library supporters have been discussing the need for a new facility since the early 1990s. They have worked to obtain other funding and have secured a $3.9 million state construction grant and $1.1 million from fund-raising and use of trust funds.

PRO: "We've outgrown the current library, and it's not handicapped-accessible," said resident Audree Dyson, a member of a group backing the override. "The 20-year loan will only cost the average person about 22 cents a day in that first year. . . . Once people were aware of the project, they were in favor."

CON: "We're going to be $750,000 short this year because of the loss of prison-mitigation funds from the state, and if Question 1 [abolishing the state income tax] passes, we could be $8 million short," said Town Meeting representative Patrick Grant. "I'm not against the library. It's just not the time to put an extra burden on the taxpayers."

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